In the future, factory layouts will be able to be generated and evaluated automatically. Scientists from Hanover are working on a software tool that optimally arranges machinery, storage areas and offices. This not only allows companies to save time and money, but also to achieve better results than with manual planning.
Planning a new factory or redesigning a production facility is an extremely time-consuming matter. Just to find the optimal layout, i.e. the best possible arrangement of all machines, warehouses and offices, companies have had to take several weeks to succeed. However, for many manufacturing companies this is important in order to survive in the market. For this reason, IPH is researching various methods to significantly simplify, accelerate and improve this process.
Generally, layout planning is done manually: Factory planning experts divide the factory into individual areas - for instance, for incoming goods, assembly, the finished parts warehouse and much more - and arrange these areas on the floor plan. For this, they use either a floor plan on paper or a digital floor plan as part of a planning software.
Manual layout planning is extremely time-consuming and yet cannot be replaced. Although it is already possible to generate factory layouts on the computer, optimum results are not yet possible here.
"With previous methods, factory layouts can only be optimised very one-sidedly," says Paul Aurich, project engineer at the Institute for Integrated Production Hanover (IPH) gGmbH. In most cases, only the transport intensity is optimised, so that the factory areas are arranged in such a way that the distances are as short as possible. In doing so, other aspects are not taken into account.
"This can lead to the meeting room being within earshot of a noisy milling machine or the manual assembly being placed in the darkest corner of the factory," according to Aurich.
With the MeFaP research project, IPH now intends to develop a holistic method for automated layout planning. Over the next two years, i.e. until the end of 2019, the researchers intend to develop software that for the first time incorporates several aspects into layout planning.
As a result, practical factory layouts can be created. Compared to manual planning, this would save a lot of time - with similarly good or even better results.
The software first requires the so-called room book. This is a detailed inventory of the factory with all machines, storage space, offices and meeting rooms. This data already provides the basis for manual planning and must be recorded in great detail for every factory planning project.
In the future, a drone can be used in this analysis of the current situation. It scans the factory building using a special camera and creates a three-dimensional site plan. Currently, factory planners still have to manually enter the individual elements into the floor plan of the hall.
The drone achieves this much faster and reaches parts of the factory that are difficult for humans to access, such as fenced robots or conveyor systems.
IPH has already developed the software for automated factory evaluation in the predecessor project "QuamFaB". Thereby, the user himself can determine which criteria are most important to him: Should the factory be as adaptable as possible or should the material flow be as efficient as possible? What is more important: Short distances or low energy requirements?
An algorithm selects the best from the automatically generated layouts and then optimally arranges machines, warehouses and paths in the new hall. This makes it possible to quickly and objectively determine which variant is best for the customer.
The great advantage of automated layout planning is obvious: "A software can view and objectively evaluate many more possible solutions in a much shorter time than a human being can survey," says Aurich. “This is the reason why we assume that the software also delivers better results."
Factory planners would then only have to take care of the details, the so-called fine layout planning. This facilitates and accelerates factory planning enormously - even at IPH.
For almost 30 years, the institute has been planning factories for industrial companies, including Bahlsen, Weserland and Weinig Grecon.
Companies interested in automated layout planning can contact the research project. The IPH is not only looking for partners with factory planning know-how, but also for manufacturing companies that want to test the software and can provide data for it. Project Manager Paul Aurich can be contacted by phone ++49-511-27976-449 or by email: email@example.com
The Institute for Integrated Production Hannover (IPH), non-profit GmbH, researches and develops in the field of production technology. The company was founded in 1988 out of the Leibniz University of Hanover.
IPH offers research and development, consulting and qualification in the fields of process technology, production automation, logistics and XXL products. Its customers include companies from the tool and mould making, mechanical and plant engineering, aerospace, automotive, electrical and forging industries.
The company has its headquarters in the Marienwerder Science Park in the northwest of Hanover and currently employs approximately 70 people, about 30 of whom are scientific personnel.